June 24, 2011

The Hobbit

I had to go with the cartoon version. It was a classic from my childhood.

One day, much to Bilbo Baggins’s (the hobbit) surprise, 13 dwarves, all with rhyming names, show up at his house along with the wizard Gandalf. They are on their way to steal ancestral dwarf gold back from the dragon Smaug. All they need to be truly successful is a good burglar to do the stealing. They want Bilbo for the job.

The 13 dwarves, 1 hobbit, and 1 wizard set off on adventure. They start with a nasty run in with trolls. They are only saved from the cook pot by the coming of daylight, which turns the trolls to stone. The crew is then able to liberate some stolen gold and several ancient Elven swords.

After a stop in Rivendell, the Elvish woodland hide-a-way resort, they head over a mountain. Halfway over they take refuge from a storm in a cave, which turns out to be a goblin cave. Everyone gets kidnapped except the wizard. While Gandalf is rescuing the crew and killing the head goblin, Bilbo gets separated from everyone else.

After some wandering, Bilbo finds a random ring on the floor and later an underground lake. There he meets Gollum. They enter a dual of wits. If Bilbo wins, Gollum shows him the way out. If Gollum wins, he eats Bilbo. Bilbo wins by accidently asking aloud, “What have I got in my pocket?” (He forgot he had found a strange ring.) Gollum can’t guess, so he storms off to his hideout to get his Precious (the ring), which would let him be invisible and come back and eat Bilbo anyway. When he can’t find the ring, things get really hairy.

Thankfully for Bilbo, he puts the ring on and quickly discovers that he is in fact invisible. This allows him to follow Gollum to an exit and slip past the goblin guards. Once outside he meets up with the crew, who escaped with Gandalf. It’s not long, though before evil wolves, called Wargs, catch up with them and trap the crew up several pine trees. Goblins show up and have a merry fire cooking underneath them, when they’re saved by giant eagles, who soar in and pluck them from the trees.

The eagles drop them with Beorn, the half bear-half man, who helps them out a bit. Next it’s off to cross Mirkwood, an evil forest. There Gandalf leaves them. The dwarves get themselves into trouble with giant spiders and uptight forest elves and Bilbo has to save their bacon. Finally, they get to the mountain and start the difficult business of trying to steal gold from a dragon.

The treasure is nearly beyond measure. And the dragon knows every coin. Bilbo steals one gold pitcher, and the dragon knows about it. This leads to a dual of wits between Smaug and Bilbo, revealing the dragon’s weak spot—a gap in his scales near his heart. When Smaug tries to destroy the dwarves, he seals them in the mountain; then he heads off to destroy the human town that provided them assistance. During his attack on the town, one warrior is able to use the knowledge about the weak spot to kill Smaug. (How did he know about the weak spot? A bird told him. Literally. I can’t make this up.)

Should be good and happy times. Dragon is dead, and the dwarves get lots and lots of treasure. Except that the humans want the treasure to rebuild the town that Smaug destroyed, plus the ancient city he destroyed when he stole the treasure. The wood elves show up, and they want a piece of the action too. The dwarves are not in a sharing mood, and using more birds, send for reinforcements and hole up in the mountain.

Bilbo breaks the stalemate with more quick thinking, just in time for the humans, elves, and dwarf reinforcements to be attacked by goblins and Wargs who are still mad about that thing in the mountain. A huge battle ensues. Bilbo misses most of it when he gets whacked on the head.

Several dwarves die, including the head dwarf, but generally everyone ends up pretty happy. The dwarves get the mountain and most of the treasure. The humans rebuild. And Bilbo goes off with enough gold to retire on.

Other thoughts:
  • Thank goodness that this was both more entertaining and much shorter than Lord of the Rings. I was really afraid there for a while.
  • While it did move a lot faster than Lord of the Rings, there was no substantial character development. He covered so much ground so quickly and had so many characters (13 dwarves alone) that you didn’t get a real feel for anyone other than Bilbo. Even Bilbo’s character seemed pretty whiny for most of the book.
  • I’ve never heard of a plot hinging on an eavesdropping bird before. The bird hangs around while Bilbo discusses Smaug and then somehow finds the one guy in town who’s the best shot, who happens to be descended from the ancient town Smaug destroyed, whose people could speak to birds. Convenient.
  • Gollum is always creepy. The Hobbit was written before Lord of the Rings, but Tolkein does a good job of setting up the rest of the story with a seriously creepy dude.
  • I will return to my earlier assertion that Tolkein was a special kind of guy. The Hobbit was released in 1937. The first book in Lord of the Rings (LoR. I’m getting lazy.) wasn’t released until 1954, yet when he discusses Gollum there is definite foreshadowing of his whole history that you learn in LoR. Plus he references other wars and events that are weaved right in to LoR later on. The intricacy and forethought that went in to this is staggering. I both respect that and am a little weirded out by it.

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